Last week Qatar-based Al Jazeera Media Network announced that it will acquire the American cable news channel Current TV. Co-founded by Al Gore and Joel Hyatt in 2005, the supposed left-leaning rival to MSNBC had problems attracting viewers and keeping hosts. Terms of the deal were not publicly disclosed, but the purchase of the struggling cable TV news channel could have cost Al Jazeera as much as $500 million. Current TV most likely will disappear within a year and a new Al Jazeera America will be headquartered out of New York City.
Not everyone is thrilled with the news. Time-Warner Cable announced almost immediately after the deal that it would remove Current TV from its lineup. Some observers are foaming at the mouth because of the inconvenient truth that Current TV was sold to the emir of a fossil fuel-rich nation. Charges of Al Gore’s hypocrisy, incidentally, are nothing new: the Gore family has had a long history with Occidental Petroleum and Armand Hammer.
The real truth, however, is much more nuanced: as the Washington Post’s Dominic Basulto reminds us, Al Jazeera is paying for potential eyeballs, not Current TV’s content. Considering the sad state of cable TV in the U.S. (look what happened to Oprah Winfrey’s dis-OWN’d new channel), this is by far the best possible deal that Gore and Hyatt could snag.
Critics who are quick to slam Al Jazeera for its scathing coverage of the Second Iraq War miss an important point: this media company is far more than a channel with a critical voice on American involvement in the Middle East. Al Jazeera is a font of information on regions of the world (The Balkans, Latin America) that often go underreported, and has not been shy about criticizing the governments of its neighbors (though it’s relatively silent on Qatar, of course).
Then there is the attack over Qatar’s status as the bastion of the oil and gas industry. No breaking news here, folks: Qatar ranks high globally on the carbon footprint per capita index. The little thumb in the Gulf has a long way to go before it can say it is a serious hub of sustainable development. Yet Qatar is emerging as a clean energy and sustainability laboratory. Its leaders understand that oil and gas are finite resources, and the country needs to diversify if it plans to maintain the high standard of living its citizens, and expat guests, enjoy. And besides solar energy or green construction, technology and media are a couple additional ways for Qatar to diversity its economy.
So, even though Time-Warner’s political move temporarily dented Al Jazeera America’s future reach, the purchase of Current TV is still a winner for Al Jazeera. Currently only 4.7 million U.S. homes have access to the channel, but that can increase to as much as 40 million once the deal is finalized. And Al Jazeera could reap even more opportunities here in the U.S.: the company’s English web site garners about 40 percent of its site visits from the U.S. Add Al Jazeera’s brilliant The Stream, a web community that integrates social media and live news. Coverage of sustainability is not yet a focus of Al Jazeera, but do not be surprised if that changes.
Despite the large media companies telling us otherwise, there is still a dearth of international news on cable television. Sure, Fox’s Bill O’Reilly may fume at Gangnam Style and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow updates us on Uganda’s homophobic government, but a serious analysis of international events is still lacking on most cable TV packages. So the banter over Gore’s cashing out is just that: banter. Not only was this the best possible deal for a dying cable TV news channel, but the acquisition of Current TV could be positive news for a TV audience who struggle to find a decent source of–news.
Leon Kaye, based in Fresno, California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business; his work has also appeared on Sustainable Brands, Inhabitat and Earth911. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost). He writes frequently about sustainable development in Qatar.
Image source: Al Jazeera English